July 6, 2016
“This deal’s getting worse all the time!”
by Ian Dreiblatt
It’s been about eight months now since Amazon, an online retailer that recalls the Gilded Age in its approach to markets, doesn’t turn a profit, and doesn’t want consumers to understand how much they’re paying for things, opened Amazon Books, a brick-and-mortar store in Seattle whose purpose, as many (including us) have observed, is not immediately apparent (although general suspicion has identified two putative goals: gathering maximal data on the book-buying public, and acceding to a market dominance that in its modesty and subtlety of calibration recalls Darth Vader).
Given the those Vaderian tendencies, talk has swirled since before the store’s opening about the possibility of bricks being set to mortar in other locations as well. Sure enough, as we’ve reported this year, new stores are indeed planned for both San Diego and Portland.
It’s been sort of mid-New Hope, with plucky heroes (fellow indies, that’s us) fighting skirmishes against, and seeking structural weaknesses in, a powerful and expanding enemy (Paul Krugman calls it a “monopsony,” which is why he has a Nobel Prize and you don’t), amid much zippy talk and menacingly long odds. True to this (admittedly ridiculous, but can’t we have some fun?) metaphor, a story by Jennifer Gould Kell in last Sunday’s New York Post reports on some construction in New York City that seems to unveil the internet behemoth’s intention of becoming the ultimate power in the universe. That’s no moon, guys: another Amazon Books store is being planned for the island of Manhattan — specifically, the Hudson Yards on the western flank of Midtown.
Kerry Close of Money magazine calls the development “good news for New York City bookworms,” but Money is an entire magazine named after a spiritually paltry medium of exchange, so, y’know, grain of salt. (And in Close’s defense, she may merely be parroting a line in the hope of avoiding any… imperial entanglements.) Close also noted that it’s not just bookstores that have felt Amazon’s blaster fire, writing that “as a result [of Amazon’s growing share of the US apparel market], mall anchors like Macy’s, Sears and JC Penney have been hit with hard times financially and have been forced to shutter some of their locations.” Great.
Details on the Manhattan store are scant for now, with one anonymous source confirming that “there’s no way that deal is dying” and little else in the way of information. The Post reports that the store is scheduled to open in late 2018 or early 2019, in time to coincide with Amazon’s recently-inked e-book deal with the New York City Department of Education. (I was going to throw in a whole thing about how, just maybe, Chewbacca can finally get his medal this time, but you’ve been heroically patient and deserve better.) We’ll be following the story — watch this space.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.